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penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the good man of the house, saying, these last have wrought but
one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I'do thee no wrong; didst not thou agree with me for a penny? take that thine is, and go thy way; I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? is thine eye evil because I am good ? So the last shall be first and the first last; for many be called but few chosen."
Is there any here who can impugn the justice of such an expostulation? Is there any who does not perceive that, when the earliest labourers had received their stipulated hire, they had no colourable ground of murmuring against their employer for giving an equal sum to any other whom he chose to favour? Can we fail to recollect that of all these labourers the necessities were the same, though their opportunities of earning a supply had not been equal ; that the same kindness which called them in when so little remained to be done, might naturally be expected to prompt a liberal employer to proportion his bounty to their wants rather than to their merits; and that he who might unblam. ed have relieved those wants without exacting any labour at all, was equally justified in exacting no more labour than the approach of night enabled them to apply effectually?
Though, therefore, (as we have seen from the circumstances under which the parable was spoken) its primary application was plainly to the hope and reward of the Chris. tian ministry, and its intention was to rebuke the self-exaltation of Peter, and to prepare both himself and his fellow apostles for the reception of future teachers of the Gospel and future participants in glory; though this was, I say, its primary meaning, yet its principle is obviously capable of a far wider and more important application, as illustrative of the general dealings of the Almighty with mankind, and of the manner, more particularly, in which, under the Gospel, mankind in general are admitted to mercy and salvation.
I do not mean, as some bave mistakenly supposed, I do not mean, that this parable can be fairly said to convey the doctrine (which is not very consonant with reason, and which is directly opposed to many positive assertions of Scripture) that the condition of the blessed in another world is to be alike to all; and that, whatever their exertions in the cause of God, they are not to differ from each other in glory. Such a supposition is opposed to the express declaration of our Lord that in His “Father's house are many mansions ;” it is opposed in a no less striking manner to the memorable parable of the talents;* it is opposed by all which we are told in Scripture of that celestial hierarchy of angels, whose fellow-citizens we ourselves hope to become; it is opposed by the specific promise which our Lord had just made to His twelve that they should sit on twelve thrones, in sovereignty as well as in dignity, exalted over the tribes of believing Israelites.
But, in truth, those inquirers may do worse than lose their labour, who seek in the illustrations and parables of Scripture a detailed as well as a general likeness of the objects which they are intended to explain, and are discontented with the portrait if they miss the minutest feature of the original. For no purposes
of instruction can such an accuracy of circumstances be required; on no principle of poetry or eloquence is such servility of adaptation desirable. When a lion is up to the imitation of a warrior fighting for his native land, shall this be gravely received as a recommendation to contend, like the lion, with the weapons only which nature has furnished? When the sluggard is sent to the anthill for instruction, did the wise king of Israel intend him to scoop his dwelling in the ground? What would become of Esop and Bidpai, if their apologues were expounded by the same minuteness of allegory? Or what renders it necessary to suppose, in the present instance, that the rewards of Heaven will, necessarily, be all
an equality, while we refuse at the same time, wbich we must refuse, to suppose that envy, murmuring, and an
• St. John xiv. 2. St. Matt. xxv. 14–30.
evil eye will be found among the spirits of just men made perfect?
All, therefore, which the spirit of the parable necessarily implies, and all which it can be supposed to imply, (when coupled with the circumstances under which it was spoken, and compared with other passages of Scripture) is an assertion of the absolute sovereignty of God over His works, and the absolute freedom of His bounties to them; a declaration that the rewards of another state of existence are not a matter of debt, but of grace and mercy, and that, in the distribution of these rewards the Almighty will be guided by a reference to the necessities of mankind as much as to their virtues; and more particularly that those virtues so far as, for Christ's sake and in His name, they can be taken account of at all, will be sometimes estimated by proportions entirely distinct from the length of our Christian course, and the amount of opportunities afforded to us.
I will endeavour to explain myself, and in so doing to vindicate, by His help, the mercy and justice of the Most High. It is, in the first place, certain from the whole tenor of the Gospel, and if direct testimonies were wanting, it might be inferred from the present parable, that no man can either enter into a state of grace, or work out the salvation once begun by God's Spirit, in his heart, except by the preventing and supporting grace of that blessed Spirit alone. It is God's gift that he is called. It is God's vineyard in which he is privileged to labour; and the power and opportunities of doing good are, like tools for the day, supplied to him by God alone.
In thus maintaining God's absolute sovereignty, I am not maintaining the doctrine of absolute decrees. I can. not conceive that God ever uses His sovereignty in that manner; though grace is free, it will not follow that it is employed irresistibly; and, for all which appears to the contrary in the present parable, the labourers who were sent into the vineyard might, as well as the guests who were invited to the marriage supper, have refused to go, and have preferred their previous idleness, or the service of a different master. But with such as accept the call, with
such as persevere in their labours, with such as, on account of these labours, have reason to expect everlasting life from their Heavenly Father, with all such the calling has been of God; and for that calling, and all its blessed consequences, they owe to God unbounded thankfulness, and have reason to ascribe to His goodness alone even the covenanted rewards which they receive from Him. But it is obvious that His goodness to them, being thus free, cannot be lessened by the fact that He shows to certain of their brethren a greater goodness still; they are, themselves, paid beyond their deserts ; and it is envy alone, of all evil passions the worst and basest, which can find pain in the happiness of another. Yet even in this dispensation of our God, as represented to us in the present parable, is nothing capricious or unintelligible, inasmuch as other considerations innumerable, besides the duration, or even outward success of our Christian course, must have their weight with the Alljust and Allwise.
One believer, for instance, is placed by His providence in a distinguished and, outwardly, an arduous station of duty. He bears the burthen and the heat of the day; he rides in the foremost ranks of the armies of his invincible Lord; he carries the banner of the cross where it is assail. ed by the potentates of earth, and the princes of the power of the air; and he fights, through a long life, the good fight of faith successfully, being encouraged and supported in part it may be, by the very conspicuousness of the sphere in which he moves, and still more and more, undoubtedly, by that secret influence of the Most High, which hath girded his loins with strength, and covered his head in the day of battle.
The pilgrimage of another is of an obscurer kind; his walk is through the secret paths of life, unknown, unpraised, perhaps reproved and slighted. He has no converts to show ; he has had no splendid opportunities of evincing his love of God and his dauntless faith in his Redeemer. His warfare has been within ; and in weakness and fear, in solitude and silence, he has struggled with the defects of an imperfect education, with the discouragement of unsuccessful labours, with the infirmities of a peevish and distrustful temper, with the unkindness or neglect of men, and with the indescribable terrors of those powers of darkness which are most potent with the weak and melancholy. Yet, though he has trembled, he has not yielded; yet, though he has done little, he has endeavoured all he could; yet, though he has been encompassed with darkness and dismay, from the deeps he hath called upon God; and his eye, from the midst of the valley of the shadow of death, has been bent on the heavenly Sion! And of these two candidates, these martyrs of different descriptions, which best may claim the palm? I know not; who but God can know! but the men are both gone to their reward; and I am convinced that the more illustrious and distinguished servant of Christ would be neither surprised nor grieved to find his weaker brother set beside him!
It is the same with every exercise of the graces and virtues of Christianity. A man is judged, and if judged then surely recompensed, according to that which he hath, not according to that which he hath not. This man, we will suppose, has an ample fortune, and uses that fortune nobly. He supports missions, he founds hospitals, he relieves the bodily and spiritual wants of hundreds. This other is himself but little, if at all, elevated above the condition of an object of charity; yet he steals from his own repose to watch by the sick-bed of a neighbour; he defrauds his own scanty meal to share it with those who are yet more necessitouş. The one is a mighty river, which bears wealth and fertility to many provinces; the other is a little mountain spring, whose rills are but sufficient to nourish a drooping flower, or to offer a cup of cold water to a fainting traveller. But is the widow's mite forgotten? or who shall doubt that, under circumstances of which God alone is the fitting judge, it may be, when the river and the spring bave alike rolled their waters to the ocean of eternity, that the one may, in proportion to its course and its quantity, have been as valuable as the other !
The same observation will apply to a longer and a shorter life, or to approach more closely to the particular circumstances of the parable, to the strongest case of all, of an earlier or later conversion to the faith and practice